When you look at me, what do you see?
On the surface, as a person passing by, as an acquaintance, you see a girl with dark brown hair and golden brown eyes, a tiny little thing, not even 5 feet tall. You see my smiling face, and you hear my contagious laugh.
Now let’s take another step closer. You are a friend, what do you see?
My brown hair and eyes and my short stature. You see my smiling mouth, but you notice my eyes tell you something different, something that isn’t happiness. You hear my laugh, but you recognize it’s just covering the pain.
And now, one step closer, I am going to tell you what I see.
When I look in the mirror, I see all the things you see. But I also see the invisible things, the things inside of me that haunt me day in and day out. I see the monsters who are supposed to stay under the bed, who follow me everywhere I go. I’m going to tell you about these monsters that own me, they go by the names Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Panic.
These monsters come as “intrusive thoughts.” Every time I think, every time I close my eyes, they come. They produce an image of pain and suffering in my head. I cringe. Every thought I have gets spun into something terrible. The monsters build a web of lies, and even though I know they aren’t true, I still turn back, give up and cry.
Each time I think about driving, for example, or even getting into a car, I see myself getting into a car accident. Every. Single. Time. This is a typical worry for many people, but it isn’t always as drastic. I could be thinking about how I want to eat ice cream and see myself choking, dropping it on the ground, having an allergic reaction. That’s thing about my monsters — they like to change up the storyline, keep it interesting.
The inside of my head is a loud place. Something is constantly bouncing around. I think about things I said or did years ago, about how “stupid” I was. I regret decisions I’ve made. I think about things I did yesterday and things I will do tomorrow, I play out scenarios in my head and I create conversations I will have with people before I have them. I think about how I need my brain to stop, to turn off for a little bit. I think about everything and anything, and it never stops.
My monsters have followed me everywhere for the last 15 years. I’ve had anxiety since I was 3 years old. I remember being 7 and learning if you’re allergic to something your throat can close. I remember going home from school and sitting in front of the mirror looking at my throat, hyperventilating because I thought it was closing.
I’m a self-confessed hypochondriac. My mom won’t let me look up “symptoms” I’m “feeling” or the side effects of medication. My brother is allergic to sesame. I’m not, but my anxiety tells me I am. I haven’t eaten anything with sesame on or in it since we found out about his allegy. If I do, my body mimics an allergic reaction, but all my vitals remain fine. My mind does this a lot, especially with foods I’ve never eaten or when I don’t know a recipe’s ingredients.
My anxiety makes it hard to decide what to wear or raise my hand in class to answer or ask a question. Anxiety holds me back and keeps me from doing things others find easy. I can’t eat lunch in the cafeteria at school because it is too loud and crowded, and sometimes being with people is difficult.
I remember being 11 years old and having my first panic attack. That was almost seven years ago. I’ve been having panic attacks ever since. For those of you who don’t know, a panic attack is like an anxiety attack, except they don’t have a trigger and come at random. For me, a panic attack includes hyperventilating, shaking, dizziness and restricted breathing. These can last less than five minutes or upwards of two to three hours. I used to have to go home from school when I’d have one, but I’ve gotten so good at hiding them that I can sit through an entire class period having one without anyone noticing but me. Since January this year, I’ve had 310 panic attacks. I constantly live in fear of having another one, and I limit myself because of them. I avoid a lot of foods, places, people and events in hopes it will help.
Anxiety makes me a difficult person to be friends with. It’s taken a toll on me and my family. I can’t do a lot of things, not because I don’t want to but because I am afraid to. I am so afraid of dying that I’m afraid to live.
If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
Article by Lisa Giuffre